Rock Trenching The Right Way

By Jeff Griffin, Senior Editor | May 2014, Vol. 69 No. 5

Got utilities to bury in extremely hard, rocky conditions?

If the job is in the southwest region of the lower 48 United States, the number to call is (512) 864-7455, suggests Steven Morris. The call will reach the Georgetown, TX, offices of Custom Trench Inc. where Morris is project and business development manager.

“We are a mass rock excavation specialist,” said Morris. “We do private and public utility trenching along with trenching for telephone and fiber optic systems, oil and gas pipelines, wind farms, sewer and water mains, work for road and detention for milling and mining operations and ‘collective’ trenching. We have trenched for as many as 48 separate lines, single-placed in a trench 24-feet deep and 6½-feet wide.”

Morris says he doesn’t segment work by individual market.

“Our name ‘Custom Trench’ defines what we do – when the need for trenching arises, whatever it may be, we’re ready,” he explained. “Work by market category changes from year to year. For example, in 2011, 75 percent of our jobs were for pipelines. Last year, we were 50 percent oil/gas/fiber and 50 percent utility/sewer/water mains. We average one wind farm job a year – we may go a year or two without one, then all at once we’ll knock off three in a row. Over the years, we have done about every kind of excavation, including manholes, service lines and deep wet wells. Name it, and we’ve probably done it.”

Custom Trench was founded in 2008 with the establishment of a relationship with a company that was interested in moving out of the trenching business. It provided Custom Trench with trenching equipment needed to begin immediate operations. One of its first jobs was a 50-mile long, 16-inch pipeline project in Kansas.

“We started with one estimator, one mechanic, one haul truck driver and four operators for eight machines,” Morris recalled. “The first year the plan was to grow, but 2009 and 2010 were difficult – not much work and the jobs we got came cheap. Then we started digging ourselves out of the hole we were in because of all the start-up expenses.”

Today, the company has 22 trenchers ranging in size from a 125-horsepower wheel-mounted rock saw that weighs 10,000 pounds to a track machine weighing 300,000 pounds powered by an 875-horsepower diesel engine. Other equipment includes two rock wheels and two dirt bucket wheel models. The other units are chain-type track machines.

Sub works

Custom Trench works 95 percent of the time as a subcontractor that limits its services to excavation – someone else installs product.